C S Lewis is one of my favourite authors and not just for the reserved brilliance of Mere Christianity. In contrast to his strictly Christian writing, The Abolition of Man is essentially a work of political philosophy, a critique of those ideas which seek to escape the body of natural law which has served every successful human civilisation.
The Four Loves is somewhere in between. From the back cover,
Millions of words have been written on the true nature of love, but few are as succinct as in this book. This seminal inspirational work divides ‘love’ into four categories: Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity. The first three come naturally, but without Charity, C.S.Lewis shows us how all love can become distorted, bitter and even dangerous.
Lewis makes few references to the Bible, but the book seems inspired by Christ’s command in John 15, especially verse 17, “This is my command: love each other.” But what is love?
Lewis sets out his own ideas but first he considers our likings and loves for that which is not human. He sets out a good explanation of love for country and how it becomes an unhealthy patriotism when one forgets that the people of other nations are equally entitled to the love they feel for their own homelands and customs.
The book reveals that love is far more complex than is generally considered. A moment’s thought confirms that love is greater than the passing passions so often dramatised for entertainment. Too often, “love” is taken to mean what Lewis calls “eros”: not the sex act, but those feelings which exist between lovers. Such a narrow view excludes the rich pattern of human relationships encompassed by affection, friendship and charity.
Charity: a vexed word. How often charity is portrayed as assistance inferior to that provided through state compulsion. Greater is Lewis’s conception of charity as love. So, it is perhaps a pity many of us hear only the modern translations of 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings. In the King James Version, it reads,
13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. …
The Four Loves is in part horribly old-fashioned to the contemporary mind. No matter: for those concerned with the elements that make right relationships between individuals in society, whoever they may be, Lewis made a valuable contribution.